After a number of bombs and false starts, and a glorious mod that doesn’t count because it’s a mod, there’s finally a very good, official Game of Thrones video game. And all the developers had to do was port a board game to the PC.
As we’ve written here loads of times, the Game of Thrones board game is an all-time classic. Mixing Risk-like strategy with copious amounts of treachery and fortune, it’s not just a great game in its own right, but also a perfect adaptation of the top-level themes of the universe itself.
Yet, and I can’t stress this enough, turning that board game into a successful video game was not a sure thing. The board game is played in a physical space with tangible units and friends/enemies sitting right across a table from you. A video game like this is usually played solo against an AI (though in this case there is online multiplayer if you can’t hang out with your crew like you did in The Before Times), sitting at the same PC that can with a few clicks run something like Crusader Kings or Total War.
You’ve only got to look at some other recent high profile board game adaptations, like Scythe and Terraforming Mars, to see how easy it is to mess this up. Both of those, titans in the board game space, made their digital experience too similar to the physical one, making the purchase and playing of the video game version almost pointless.
It’s when developers go that extra mile, and take advantage of the medium they’re adapting the board game to, that these kind of titles really shine. Tokaido knows this. As does Raiders of the North Sea.
Thankfully, so does Game of Thrones. Made by the same studio behind Raiders (Dire Wolf), the same principles that made it such a quality digital port are here as well. It’s the same game I’ve loved on a tabletop, yes, but here on a PC it also looks and moves like a video game.
The board game’s bland wooden miniatures, for example, are replaced here with fully animated footmen, knights, siege engines and ships, each of which struts and shuffles around the map like they’d wandered straight out of Civilization V. Battles are also wonderfully rendered, with defeated heroes stricken from the board with violent slashes.
Another nice touch, and again borrowed from Raiders, is that the game has more to it than just the regular free-for-all dash for the throne. Here there are also a number of scenarios you can play, useful as both tutorials and also just specific challenges, with the added benefit they’re even tied to specific strategic shifts during the course of the story.
As for the game itself, well, as we’ve said a number of times over the years it’s fantastic, only here it’s faster, cleaner and involves a lot less admin work. It even manages to include a more formal way of implementing the board game’s constant need for wink wink nudge nudge alliances, which allow you to team up with the AI in certain circumstances, but not in a way that’s binding in the rules, maintaining the treacherous risks of the original.
About the only disappointments I’ve run into are the fact that it’s just the base, original version of the game, missing its excellent expansions, and that it’s only available on PC and Mac, when mobile versions would, considering the competition this is up against in your Steam library when it comes to strategy games, be even better.